The Shifting Sands Of Our Crustal Earth

On a bright February afternoon in 2001 the technical services team here at Promega received word that a major earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale had struck the American Pacific Northwest, and that telecommunications with our customers in that region would be significantly disrupted. The major shock had occurred at precisely the moment that one of our own had been on the phone with a researcher in Seattle.  That call was prematurely cut short as electrical power outages and extensive building damage rocked through the Seattle-Tacoma metro area. Fortunately the epicenter of this particular 45-second quake was 52 km below the ground (1). 400 injuries, four of them serious, was the extent of the medical burden suffered. As earthquakes go this was a weak one, although strong enough to rekindle our awareness that the earth beneath our feet is often times worryingly unpredictable (1). This month’s mega-quake in Japan was a painful reminder of the apocalyptic potential of our planet’s extensive seismicity.    Continue reading

Hummingbirds: Elaborate Trappings Of The Nectar Eater

Maqu

My parents and I indulged in a little ecotourism of our own by traveling down to the Maquipucuña nature reserve about 50 miles to the north of Quito in Ecuador.

During the 1990s I had untold opportunities to witness the full exuberance of nature’s rich offerings. My parents’ house on the southwestern edge of Ecuador’s capital Quito was set in a prime location for observing all manner of wildlife. And most memorable of all were the hummingbirds that frequented our garden attracted as they were to the blooming plants that had been strategically potted next to the outside walls of our living room. These veritable masters of flight, the smallest of warm blooded creatures on our planet, arrived with the sole purpose of extracting sweet nectar from the flowers we had laid before them. Their hovering maneuverability their most striking attribute.

To date over 330 different species of hummingbird have been identified across the expanse of the American continent (1–3). And the mechanisms behind their supreme agility are being dissected out by the likes of UC Riverside biologist Doug Altshuler (1,4). Continue reading

Yasuní: An Ecological Paradise That Exceeds All Superlatives

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.org

Traveling to the rain forests on the eastern side of Ecuador from the capital Quito is an adventure to be savored.  Even on a good day the entire journey takes a few hours to complete. En route one experiences a notable shift in climate from the cool temperatures of the Andean cordillera to the humid and damp environs of the western tip of the Amazon basin. My family and I made this trip at the end of 1994. Driving in a small 4×4, we experienced the thrill of rugged terrain, road-crossing marching ants and even an unplanned skid into a maize field. Much to our relief, we arrived safely at the town of Tena close to the Amazon’s Napo River.  After driving a further 25 km to the town of Ahuano, we took a motorized canoe ride across the water to the Casa Del Suizo hotel for our planned three-night stay.

Unknown to us at the time, the Napo River flows along the northern-most reaches of the 9820 sq. km Yasuní National Park, recognized internationally as one of the most bio-diverse regions of our planet and located only 50 km further east from where we were staying (1,2). Continue reading